Dec 22, 2015

The Naked Ghost of Hylton Castle: A Gay Murder Mystery

Hylton Castle in Sunderland, near the Scottish border, is closed now, but for centuries staff and visitors reported seeing a naked teenage boy wandering the hallways.

When they approached him, he moaned "I'm cauld"(cold),  and vanished.

Dubbed "The Cauld Lad of Hylton," the ghost had a helpful side.  He lit fires that had gone out, and tidied rooms that had been left in disarray.

But he also had a mischievous side.  He would slam doors, knock books over, blow candles out, and move objects around.

Besides, what could be scarier than a naked teenager complaining about the cold?

According to legend, the ghost was Robert Skelton, a stableboy in the employ of the young Baron Robert Hyland during the age of Shakespeare.  On the morning of July 3rd, 1609, he overslept and didn't have the Baron's horse ready for a trip.  The enraged Baron killed him.

Some versions say that he chopped the boy's head off; others, that he stabbed him with a pitchfork, or hit him with a riding crop. 

Historical records do mention that a Robert Hylton was tried for the murder of Robert Skelton in the fall of 1609.  He claimed that the murder was an accident, and was pardoned by James I.

But the 20-year old Hylton wasn't the Baron yet.  His older brother, Henry, was.



In English Fairy Tales (1890), the famous anthology by Joseph Jacobs, the Cauld Lad is turned into a monster.





Most modern illustrations make him human, but  much younger than a real stableboy of the era, and not nearly as naked.

This leads us to a question:  Ghosts usually appear in the outfit they died in.  Why was Robert Skelton naked?

Elizabethans didn't sleep naked, even in the summer time.   Unless they had thrown off their clothes in the heat of passion.

So Robert Skelton must have been having sex on the night of July 2nd.  Who was is partner?

Some legends give him a forbidden romance with the Baron's daughter, but in 1609 Robert was too young to have a teenage daughter.



Robert Hylton himself, then?  But why would Hylton then be surprised at Skelton's oversleeping?


Maybe his brother,  24-year old Baron Henry Hylton? Shortly after the murder, Henry went to live with his cousin Nathaniel Hylton, and stayed for 30 years. He never consummated his arranged marriage.  He was characterized as reclusive, eccentric, and "mad."

Picture it: Robert finds his older brother and the stableboy in the midst of a sexual encounter and, outraged at the breach of etiquette, grabs a pitchfork.  Robert is able to use his social position to get a pardon.  Henry never recovers.

And Robert Skelton wanders the hallways, moaning "I'm cauld..."

See also: The Gay Ghost of Davenport House.